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Wednesday, February 19, 2003:

Hooray, the adventures have started (for Libby anyway). Here's her first report from the great northwest:

"I just got word that I might not be able to drive through the mountains from Medford to Sacramento without chains... and Avis has no chains and wont
allow them to be put on their cars... if there's snow, I might have to return the car, fly to Sacramento then rent another car... pray for warm weather... Seattle was good, Portland too.. another day in Portland tomorrow..."

And here's a note from Linda Jedlicka one of our Sisters-in-Crime out in Washington State:

"I met one of your 'partners' at Third Place Books last evening, Libby Hellmann. What a terrific lady she is! She let us piggy-back our SinC chapter (Puget Sound) meeting onto her booksigning, and joined us before the meeting for supper. We had a great time .. although some of my sibs took entirely too much joy in telling her scary stories about the route she's driving between Medford OR and Sacramento CA. Folks who live in states with mountains take waaaaay too much pleasure in scaring 'flat-landers'..."

Deborah and I are packing our bags for Friday departures. Can we squeeze everything we own into one carry-on? Will we be able to hoist that carry-on
into the overhead compartment without herniating a disk? To be continued...Roberta

 

Thursday, February 20: Another report from Libby in Oregon:

OK.. Am feeling better about the chains and mountain passes. Portland sisters in crime tell me it's been a mild winter, and the likelihood of getting through the Siskiyous without crashing the car is good. Which is, as Martha is want to say, a good thing for this nervous driver. I also have the number of the Oregon road conditions hot line and have been compulsively calling it every few hours. Still, I can't help wondering whatever happened to racing down the open road, singing along to the radio, pretending I was Grace Slick? Yeah, yeah, Don't tell me.. it's winter.

Portland has been a lot of fun. We had a great turnout at Murder by the Book. Carolyn served wine and cookies--she knows how to throw a signing! Afterwards, Arlene Sachitano, Susan Stanley, Donni, whose last name I forgot, but who gave me some of her beautiful hand-made soap, and I went to dinner. Arlene even took me to Fred's (I think I got that right) where I was able to get my melatonin (don't leave home without it) and paid using one of those U-scans for the first time. How cool! Anyone who ever wanted to be a grocery store checker can now get their jollies... (now you know what my childhood aspiration was) Lunch today with Nancy Boutin, another Sister (I love this organization--and the Portland members are warm and welcoming), and then a library appearance tonight. And major congrats to Lies: Roberta.. she may be too modest to report it, but she's up for an Agatha Award for First Best Mystery!!! Sex, Lies, and Videotape Rules!! And we're just getting going!!

 

Saturday, February 22

The first official appearance of SLV occurred at Diane Kudisch's cozy San Francisco Mystery Bookstore in the Castro section of the city. It was a gorgeous day--Libby insists the sun came out the minute she crossed the border into California. (She also wants it known that she's writing a new song, "I Left My Chains in Sacramento.")

Diane's store had a good stream of mystery fans in spite of the sunshine outside. Simultaneously, we conducted a three-part radio interview with an NPR affiliate in Thousand Oaks, California. Unfortunately, with a connection that faded in and out like a teenage romance, much of the chat focused on whether we could find another line. High point of the stop: Diane's coworker Ginny's fabulous "Cream cake"--she said she found the recipe in a mystery book and it was "to die for!"

Saturday at 5 pm found us speaking to a small (but enthusiastic) audience at Book Passage in Corte Madera. We drove over the Golden Gate bridge to get there, admiring the sailboats in the bay on our way. Ginger Hudson was our gracious host, providing iced mochas and then personalized stationery as a gift from Book Passage. This is a wonderful independent bookstore that holds daily author signings and a wide variety of writing, language and other classes.

 

Sunday, February 23

San Mateo is a charming little town south of San Francisco, and we were charmed to appear at the "M" Is For Mystery bookstore.

Deborah did a signing there with Joanne Pence last February, and the signage and layout looked so familiar that at first she didn't realize the happy truth: "M" is for Mystery has moved to a new location on the same street, with more room for shelves - and customers - as well as expanded work space in back. These have been tough economic times for independent bookstores, so it's heartening to see a store that's not only thriving, but expanding. Congratulations to Ed and Jeanie Kaufman!

Sunday afternoon we checked into the Bancroft Hotel, a venerable inn in the heart of Berkeley built in 1924 as a college women's club. Book-touring is hungry work, and we happily scarfed down killer hamburgers at Barney's with Roberta's stepdaughter Molly and her pal Liz.

Then it was onward and upwards through the fog into the Berkeley Hills, for an evening at Janet Rudolph's high-perched home. With an audience of a dozen or so mystery readers (and stalwart organizers of Left Coast Crime 2004 in Monterey), we told our respective tales of getting published, and fielded well-informed questions about the joys and perils of book promotion.

One of the perils is sheer fatigue, and all three of us were grateful to retire to our beds, knowing that we didn't have to drive anywhere on Monday morning. When you're on the road, it's sometimes bliss to stay put...

 

Monday, February 24

Had the day off to see the sights of Berkeley (or work on Book Three in Libby's case), then off to an early pasta dinner recommended by the college girls. Also stopped in to say hello to Jack Rems at Dark Carnival--he's got mysteries, science fiction and a fabulous collection of weird and interesting sci-fi paraphernalia.

Seven pm saw us driving into Oakland to visit Newburn Mystery Inc, owned by Maurice Newburn, a neat guy who says he came out here to California 30 years ago and is still waiting for the bus home! He's got a cute little store, relocated from Albany 3 months ago, and is still feeling out the climate for mysteries. (The "Etc." covers any other kind of book you might want to find!) Maurice brought in his stalwart crew of loyal fans and a wonderful spread of goodies--turns out we didn't need that dinner after all! We also had a surprise appearance from Deborah's childhood best friend's sister and her husband. All in all, a warm reception and a friendly crowd. On the way back to the hotel, slightly lost in the intimidating city of Oakland without a street map, driver and navigator differed and we decided to institute the "no-blame" policy that was used in Roberta's family. (It didn't really work then either....)

We're off this morning for a brief stop at Bookshop Santa Cruz, then tour Pebble Beach (for you know who), and on to Big Sur. Deborah booked us a cabin in the forest and Libby already has the shakes--no email, no phone, no cell phone coverage. We hope to emerge intact on Wednesday.

 

Tuesday, February 25

We began the day with a visit to Bookshop Santa Cruz, where a T-shirt on display said it all: "Keep Santa Cruz Weird!" After signing the books in stock we chatted with Kelsey,the events manager. For all you promotion hounds out there, Kelsey recommends shelf talkers, those little cardboard tags with a nice quote or staff recommendation, that stick out from the shelf and draw attention to your book. We gave Left Coast Crime in Monterey a good plug, and suggested that she consider hosting a grand mystery writer event before or after the conference. (Hey, no one said we weren't brazen hussies!)

Next, we visited a golf shrine, driving the 17 mile scenic route that includes Pebble Beach. Roberta drooled over the golf course--Libby and Deborah still don't get it. Then we made our leisurely way down the Big Sur Coast, oohing and aahing as each bend in Highway 1 (and there are plenty!) revealed a new vista of crashing surf on one side and folded green hills on the other.

The rest of the afternoon was devoted to nature, on a fine hike in Pfeiffer State Park; we saw iris growing wild beneath the redwoods, some birds that Deborah identified as winter wrens, Stellars jays and black vultures, and breathtaking views of the nearby hills. Roberta and Libby managed to enjoy our stay in the rustic but charming Big Sur Lodge, despite the lack of telephone and TV service. Deborah opined that they're both overcivilized sissies, but we're still on speaking terms -- probably because dinner in the lodge restaurant was fabulous. Who can argue while dining on pasta with salmon smoked on the premises.

 

Wednesday, February 26

Left the Lodge at Big Sur and followed Highway 1 down to Hearst Castle with many stops for photo opps and beach trolling. Most amazing sight of the day: enormous sea lions sunning themselves along the side of the road. Deborah informed us they always nap after a meal--a good trend for SLV to consider. On the down side, Libby and Roberta had to endure D's favorite tape: "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying." Maybe she thinks we'll learn something from it... Stopped by Billy Hearst's place but opted out of the tour. Libby bought postcards instead.

Arrived in Atascadero two hours early, thinking we might transform a speaking engagement into a drive-by signing. But Ann's Bookstore had done such a wonderful job publicizing our visit that we used the extra time to sort colors and whites in the parking lot and did laundry at the laundromat next door. Deborah threatened to post these photos if we continue to ban Broadway musicals in the car tape player. Libby also used the time to canvas the store owners in the shopping plaza until she found one who'd let her access her email. She comes from the "southern town" of DC--they are accustomed to depending on the kindness of strangers. The event at Ann's was as warm and welcoming as Ann herself, and we headed to Santa Barbara after signing mountains of books.

 

Thursday, February 27

We had a crisp, sunny morning in Santa Barbara: tailor-made for breakfast on the beach. After a quick stop at Chaucer's Books, we'll head down the road to Pasadena and Left Coast Crime.

 

February 28 - March 2: LEFT COAST CRIME

The intensity of our trio was diluted by an amiable crowd of five hundred, once we reached Pasadena and Left Coast Crime. This conference was universally hailed as one of the best-run events in recent history, beginning with the clever panel titles and ending with the two book grab bag Sunday morning. (Roberta was thrilled to discover an ARC of Steven White's new book along with Guest of Honor Robert Crais's LA Requiem.)

All three of us had panels Friday morning. Roberta and company talked about sidekicks, including how to prevent them from stealing the glory from the book's protagonist. (After a week on the road, just keeping your eyes open for a nine AM panel was a feat!) Deborah's panel, "Guns and Roses," was billed as romance in the mystery but kept straying into sex. (Imagine that.) Next came Libby's panel on women in spy fiction, broadened to include international intrigue so Libby could participate.

With all three panels completed by noon, we had the remainder of the day to stop talking about ourselves...for a nice change. We sampled other panels and hung out in the halls and the book dealers' room, greeting old friends and making new ones. Friday night provided a reception thrown by the SoCal chapter of Mystery Writers of America and then a Mexican buffet. Deborah skipped the Mexican delicacies to have dinner with one of her favorite writers, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.

Saturday brought more gloriously clear skies -- how did we get so lucky with the weather? Roberta was our designated panel-attender, while Deborah played hooky at the Huntington gardens and art galleries and Libby went AWOL into the San Gabriel Mountains.

That evening, Roberta had dinner with her best friend from high school, Libby hit an Italian bistro with nine of her closest con friends, and Deborah turned carnivore in the company of some Albuquerque writers.

We had arranged a donation to the live auction (raising money to combat dyslexia), and despite Libby's lamented absence, Roberta and Deborah managed to recruit Laura Hayden as a Libby impersonator, and raised high the SLV banner to the tune of a hundred and fifty bucks. Hey, it was a good cause.

Sunday was our prettiest day yet, with the hills clear to the horizon. Libby claims to understand why people are willing to risk death by earthquake to live here. Deborah, oblivious to the intense personal hazard, considered being the terror of Colorado Boulevard, but instead went wandering through the gardens and fountains near Pasadena City Hall. Pasadena's a pretty place.

Map in lap, we braved the LA freeways to arrive at Coffee, Tea & Mystery, Joan Wunsch's wonderful establishment. There Beth the Mystery Maven, theatrically attired in picture hat and trailing veil, interviewed us with more interesting questions than we'd been asking ourselves lately. Joan gave us the royal treatment, with lunch, a display of books, and snow globes containing our book covers -- just to remind us what we had waiting back home.

Our hostess Sunday night, instead of Hilton or Marriott, was Libby's longtime friend Mimi, who not only provided laundry facilities, but whipped up a spread of hors d'oeuvres that would have put a French restaurant to shame. And then a fabulous chicken in champagne sauce and a chocolate tart. Deborah bonded with Mimi's cocker spaniel Wishbone, and we all crashed to sleep.

 

Monday, March 3, 2003

We're ready for our close-ups, Mr. DeMille...SLV goes Hollywood! We peeled out of Orange County and cruised the freeways to Santa Monica, pausing only to do coffee with Loretta Swit. (OK, she was in line with us at Starbucks. But she adores our books and keeps a big stash on hand to give her friends who win Oscars.)

Our innkeeper for the next two nights is Roberta's sister-in-law Maryellen, who not only provided us each with a charming bedroom and private bath, but made us a tasty supper, chauffeured us to Mystery Bookstore of Los Angeles, and sat in the audience asking leading questions. All hail Maryellen!

Shelly McArthur's Mystery Books of LA is a pip of a store, with ranks of hard and soft cover titles and an intriguing display of vintage pulp novels. Claire, our host for the evening, had us autograph a huge old jail ledger kept specially for visiting authors. Our audience included SLV's first canine fans, two well-behaved pooches named Nick and Nora. Down the block, an eager throng of people crowded the sidewalks, waiting for premiere of the latest Bruce Willis flick. Much to our surprise, none of them rushed in to buy our books. Your loss, Toots.

A word on book touring: this trip, relatively speaking, is an easy one. The weather's been good, the routes are well-marked, and there are three of us to share the driving, navigating, MC-ing, etc. And we are STILL falling-down tired. How do rock bands do it?

 

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Strolling the beachfront in hippy dippy freaky deaky Venice, CA, we briefly considered being tattooed with the SLV logo in intriguing places, but at the last moment decided to forgo both the pleasure and the pain. Venice was a trip - and home to the Figtree Cafe, which served up a fabulous breakfast.

While Deborah and Roberta searched out a post office, Libby occupied a beach bench and was alternately invited to dance and cussed out by one of loopier locals. Naturally, she spent the whole time taking notes.

We signed stock at small, friendly Small World Books, recommended by Libby's niece Alexa, and pressed on to Northridge. Ah, the trip to Northridge, official low point of the tour. Route 405, in the middle of rush hour, in the middle of a torrential and un-forecast rainstorm. We traveled not quite twenty miles; it took not quite two hours. Enough said.

At the Northridge Barnes & Noble, our host Susan Braun had thoughtful questions for the three of us, along with fellow authors Deni Dietz and Simon Wood. Then she and former bookwoman Deborah exchanged the Secret Librarians' Handshake and we headed back to Santa Monica. Our thanks to Susan.

If this writing deal doesn't work out, we've, like, decided to be a touring rock band, you know? Like, Libby on drums and Roberta singing lead and Deborah would be so that bass guitar. Kewl. We'd do only California songs, like Ventura Highway, Santa Monica Boulevard, Little Old Lady From Pasadena, and Libby's personal favorite, Santa Catalina Island Is Waiting For Me. (We're not precisely sure where that particular Catalina Island is, besides being "twenty-six miles across the sea," but who's counting?)

 

Wednesday, March 5

If it's Wednesday, this must be Thousand Oaks (and there's, like, oak trees everywhere, must be thousands of 'em. Kewl.) But seriously, folks, Thousand Oaks is pretty and upscale and home to Mysteries To Die For, where Jane Becher and Heidi Sobel do it up right: chocolates, stacks of our books, and an enthusiastic audience of readers, including mystery cookbook producer Bob Weibezahl. Plus, SLV has its own personal stalker! Simon Wood follows us everywhere - and we're happy about it! Nice to see you again, Simon.

Five o'clock found us back in Pasadena at Book 'Em Mysteries, the cute store run by Barry Martin and Mary Riley. We didn't get the chance to meet Barry who's recovering from back surgery--hope you heal fast Barry! Tomorrow we plan to shop the streets of Pasadena, then hurtle down highway 5 for our last stop--Mysterious Galaxy.

 

Thursday, March 6, 2003

With a free morning in Pasadena, Deborah was truly the terror of Colorado Boulevard, spending some not-yet-earned royalties at Silent Partners, a consignment shop that caters to the denizens of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Most of those denizens are a size zero, but she managed to score a leather jacket and some other goodies. (Tomorrow's her birthday, after all...)

Afterwards we hit Russell's, where Roberta downed a bacon cheeseburger with a side of chili that could have fed all three of us. Where does she put it all? Libby was a wistful spectator, having picked up a stomach bug on Tuesday night during our only mediocre meal in in the great state of California. She shows signs of surviving, however.

Last stop was Maryelizabeth Hart's fabulous Mysterious Galaxy. (Those who saw ME at Left Coast Crime will be interested to hear that her glossy aubergine hair color has faded to a gentle purple.) The members of the SLV tour had stars in their eyes with mystery pros Cynthia Harrod-Eagles and Abigail Padgett in the audience. What a way to go out!

As we wound down our signing, we had a few tears in our eyes too--delighted to be heading home, but wondering who we'll consult in the days to come about restaurant and menu choices, mapquest directions, and pit stops. Whoever said the triangle is a stable element didn't have it all wrong. Deborah summed our experience up neatly: some of it was useful, most of it was fun, all of it was interesting. A big thank you to all the bookstores and friends who hosted us along the way!

As you're winging your way home on your birthday Deborah, imagine your all-girl writers rock star band crooning birthday tunes in true falsettos: Happy birthday, happy birthday baby, oooh, I love you so...Sixteen candles...they say it's your birthday, we're gonna have a good time...

Hey, since it's your big day, we might even sing a rousing chorus of "How to succeed in business without really trying"...

Travel safely ladies! See you at Malice.

 

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